Roger Soler Palau, Segment Manager, General and Business Aviation, AkzoNobel, talks to EVA about the challenges that come with the latest VIP design schemes
Q: How complex are the latest VIP business jet design schemes and how much of a challenge are they to designers, paint houses and paint manufacturers? How does the relationship between the three work in practice?
A: We are seeing a real diversification and some very ambitious design schemes in the business jets arena. There is everything from a broad range of inconspicuous finishes (which may, however, be very sophisticated in the detail) to eye-catching and very elegant designs. With today’s rapid cultural and technological advances, aircraft owners expect more from the aircraft aesthetics and often have very specific requests. We are seeing some jet livery designers transforming into real artists and their creativity, coupled with the expectations of the aircraft owner, is constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity and feasibility.
All these concepts and ideas are turned into reality by the skilful hands of paint applicators. They bring years of expertise to the challenge, combined with the continuous improvement and enhancing of their skills through learning new techniques and technologies, all of which is constantly enlarging the bounds of the possible.
Finally, the coating suppliers, by which I mean AkzoNobel and our competitors, have to provide coatings that are capable of bringing into the realm of the real, whatever final finish has been envisaged by designers. At the same time our coatings have to be able to adapt to the application techniques and processes of the paint house. Only in this way can we all ensure the best results in terms of the aesthetics of the final design, the durability of the paint job and, of course, the long-term protection of the aircraft itself.
The rapid advances of technology bring new effects and performance improvements while reducing paint-job time to the point where it is now possible to apply designs in multiple colours to create a stunning final product that would not have been imaginable some years ago. The more complex the project, the deeper the collaboration between designers, painters and coatings suppliers needs to be.
For these types of special projects, it is key to have constant communication between the parties to ensure that concepts are understood and that the processes to execute the design are appropriate for the task.
At AkzoNobel, we have had some great collaborative experiences on designs and new exclusive colour creations. In 2015, for example, we co-created with designers a specific corporate colour that featured an incredible shift from red to gold. The finished design could have come straight off one of the latest supercars. The paint house was, of course, a key player in all phases of the project.
Q: What technical support can AkzoNobel provide to paint shops?
A: There are multiple layers of support. Perhaps the most visible and most immediate for customers is that provided by the technical consultant. These are expert painters, with a background in paint shops, who combine application expertise with a deep practical knowledge of our coatings, so they can make the right adjustments to paint and/or application to get the desired result. These technical consultants support paint shops with trainings on our products, along with providing process consultancy. Where something is not working properly, they will be there to solve it.
AkzoNobel support labs are present in all regions. They help us to provide a fast reaction to any situation and also enable us to work more closely with customers on collaboration projects in order to improve the overall process and efficiency.
Additionally, the knowledge and experience of customer service and account managers is always there as a first line of support, solving the FAQs or connecting internally to the right team to support the paint shop.
Q: How much new technology is there in aerospace coatings today? What is new and different by comparison with, say, a decade or so back?
A: Technological advances in aerospace coatings are increasing dramatically. Materials science is making huge advances and new materials and processes are coming to light all the time. However, the speed of changes in aerospace is more conservative than it is in segments such as the automotive or consumer electronics industries, due to the need to comply with layers of safety regulations, certifications and approval processes.
Today, base coat/clear coat systems are in regular use for most types of aircraft, allowing shorter application times for complex designs and higher durability. Pigments, resins and colour techniques have all improved in recent years. We have captured these advances in our Alumigrip® base coat/clear coat system, which (compared with the traditional single-stage topcoats) provides a wider colour range, including special effects, with excellent appearance and durability while potentially reducing thickness and weight.
Another significant change has been the appearance of chrome-free systems for corrosion protection, which is an instance of the industry adapting to regulatory demands. Our latest move in this field was the introduction of the ‘active’ primers Aerodur® 2111 and 2118. These products extend the protection of aluminium substrates and additionally have a self-healing property that enables them to keep protecting the surface of the aircraft after external damage.
Another example is how colour itself is being handled in this digital and information era we live in. We now have rapidly accessible colour databases to a colour formula upon a colour measurement or chip selection. In fact, this year we will be launching a new version of the ‘Mixit-Cloud’ system that will enable paint shops and designers to find the right recipe for more than 10,000 colours.
Q: How much carryover is there for aircraft coatings from other areas, such as marine coatings?
A: AkzoNobel is present in many industries and it is now increasingly common to look to incorporate best practice across industries. Also internally, our expertise across these highly demanding markets allows us to leverage the capabilities in different areas and also improves our solutions for aerospace coatings.
For instance, colour technology is more advanced in the automotive world, and we are seeing some of the pigments, knowledge and data management now coming through to aerospace. Drying times are being improved using technologies from mass production electronic devices.
On the other hand, aerospace coatings requirements for performance, durability and corrosion protection are among the toughest. The need for extreme durability and performance gives aerospace coatings a unique character and achieving this requires coatings in this sector to be uniquely aerospace solutions.
Of course, the toughness and durability of coatings in the aerospace sector are known to other industry sectors and we see these coatings being requested by some automotive OEMs or yacht builders to improve the protection of these assets. For instance, we are working now with some OEMs to leverage our aerospace active corrosion protection technology and colour durability for the automotive and marine markets.
Q: Where owners have very idiosyncratic or very specific colour requirements in the paint job for their aircraft, what can AkzoNobel offer the paint shop to make life easier for them in meeting these types of request?
A: We have an extensive colour range able to satisfy most of the project requirements in our single-stage topcoat and base coat/clear coat system. In the second half of 2016 we will be launching a system offering more than 10,000 colours and shades. There will also be a set of tools that will facilitate the selection of colour samples and assist in finding any desired colour from the database.
This should cover most special requests while keeping lead times short. Where the owner’s request cannot be satisfied with the existing colour range, we can match the colour of any sample provided to us. To date we have colour-matched paint to the colours of all kinds of objects, including shoes, cars, ties, handbags…
We can also create an entirely new colour design. For these special projects we like to work closely with all the parties involved from the very beginning, so the paint house and AkzoNobel can provide guidance and advice to the owner and help them to achieve the best result.
Q: Weight is always a factor in business aviation, since there is a constant trade-off between weight and range. What can paint manufacturers do to produce lighter, more durable coatings with longer intervals between paint refreshes?
A: Weight reduction in coatings is mostly driven by the use of more efficient paint systems, thus minimising the overall volume of paint for the aircraft. In order to do that, the new resin systems and pigmentations for base coat systems provide the same hiding power with lower film thickness as traditional topcoats. In some cases the raw materials used also have lower specific weight, resulting in a significant weight reduction. Additionally, improvements in the additives for rheology control (the way a liquid spreads or flows) allow a better application control that avoids overspray in certain areas and thus eliminates unnecessary weight. For durability, the use of a clear coat like the Alumigrip 4450 on top provides a layer specifically designed for protection, wear and resistance to UV rays and strong chemicals like Skydrol or hydraulic fluids. Even if transparent to our sight, this layer contains a lot of highly cross-linked polymers and UV filters to protect the bottom layer and provide a factory-new look for many years.
Q: Is it important to have a global network of distributors or can you run out of one or a couple of locations just as well?
A: Both approaches can be good depending on the needs of the specific customer. However, a good distributor network is important. Distributors provide a service and are the link between end customers and the different suppliers for aerospace products, including paint. Their stocks are held closer to customers and so allow better lead times for efficient supply to repaint houses scattered across regions and geographies. In fact, we are expanding our network to improve coverage in some areas.
On the other hand, some customers, like major OEMs, completion centres or paint facilities, have the infrastructure and willingness to be in direct contact with paint suppliers. In these cases, we serve them directly from the different support centres we have on a global scale and in all regions. Ultimately, paint supply requires a mix of local and global levels.